This American Life retracts Apple Mike Daisey China show

Updated on: 2012-03-17 || Source: bbc.com

The makers of an influential US radio show have retracted a programme critical of working conditions in a Chinese factory making Apple devices.

This American Life made headlines when a January edition broadcast extracts of performer Mike Daisey's account of a visit to the plant.

The Chicago-based producers now say they have learned that Daisey's monologue included fabrications.

It said he had made up meeting interviewees who "had been poisoned".

The episode, entitled Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory, was distributed by Public Radio International and broadcast nationwide. It later became This American Life's most popular podcast. It hit 888,000 downloads and was streamed 206,000 times.

The broadcast was followed by a series of articles in the New York Times looking at Apple's working practices and production methods.

Facing increased scrutiny, the firm later announced that it would allow third-party audits at its factories and release a list of its suppliers.

Wrong city

In a press release, This American Life said that when asked, Mike Daisey's Chinese interpreter had disputed one of the show's most dramatic moments - Mr Daisey's claim to have met underage workers employed by Foxconn, a key Apple manufacturer.

The release also said Cathy Lee, the interpreter, had called into doubt an account of a meeting with a man who had been badly injured while making iPads.

It said Mr Daisey had described letting the man "stroke" the tablet's screen "with his ruined hand" prompting the worker to remark: "It's a kind of magic."

But it said that when questioned, Ms Lee had said "nothing of the sort occurred".

This American Life said the facts had emerged when a reporter from another public radio production - American Public Media's Marketplace - became suspicious.

"In his monologue he [Daisey] claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane," This American Life said.

While Apple's supplier audits show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, in fact that factory was not in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

In fact the incident occurred in Suzhou, nearly 1,000 miles away,Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz found.

'Horrified'

Daisey said he stood by his work, but on his blog he added that he regretted the broadcast of a 39-minute monologue from his stage show.

"What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theatre are not the same as the tools of journalism," he wrote."

"This American Life is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations."

The show's host, Ira Glass, wrote in a personal blog post that in retrospect he and his team were "horrified" to have broadcast Daisey's account.

"Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Redd during the fact-checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast," he wrote.

"That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake."

Chris Green, a technology analyst at Davies Murphy Group, said that the impact of the show had been enormous.

"Apple wasn't the only one to outsource production to China and Taiwan - but of the tech firms it did it on the largest scale, so this was a public relations nightmare for them" he said.

"The fact the programme has been discredited may help Apple and others a bit, but we know other real problems with safety at suppliers have been uncovered."

Apple was not available for comment.

The New York Times told the BBC it stands by its reporting entirely.

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